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First Drive: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 & 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 Review

Compact SUV has the looks and feel of mini G-class


PROS:

  • Compact size makes the vehicle easy to navigate in the city, while optimizing interior space
  • The SUV looks classy, like a mini-GLS
  • In AMG 35 version, this SUV drives very much like a sports car masking as an SUV

CONS:

  • AMG35 version won’t arrive in Canada until fall 2020 as a 2021 model
  • Third row seating is not really adequate for adults – it’s best for kids on short trips in the city
  • Although the price has not yet been announced, Mercedes sold in North America tend to be more expensive than competitors on a feature-by-feature basis

Malaga, Spain – If you’re keeping count, Mercedes now has SUVs that stretch across the size spectrum, including G, K and S-class models. Now it has introduced a compact B-model to complete its A, B, Cs.

The GLB is painting its target market with a broad brush: primarily forty-something families with a couple of kids and a dog (and neighbour kids, too – more about that later). It’s also suitable for older drivers who are looking for a vehicle that is easy to get into and seats them up high. Although it is clearly meant to spend most days on pavement, it is also capable of handling the occasional off-road adventure.

Release dates for the GLB 250 and Mercedes-AMG 35

This tight and lively compact has two very distinct distinct personalities – the 250, which will arrive in Q1 as a 2020 model, is a peppy urban runabout, and the turbocharged AMG 35, which arrives in the fall as a 2021, is the version that will deliver an authentic racing buzz. 

Related: Best Small 2020 SUV & Crossovers Worth Know About

The new GLB 250 compact SUV is meant to spend most days on pavement but it is also capable of handling the occasional off-road adventure. Photo: Doug Firby

We were introduced to the GLB recently on the roads inland from the Costa del Sol resort area of Marbella, Spain. Here are some impressions. 

Quick overview of the new GLB compact SUV

The GLB is a smart looking compact, in the same way the GLS is smart looking, dignified with its unmistakable Mercedes grill and badging. The GLB’s upright stance and tall windows very much mimic the look and feel of the larger Mercedes, a departure from the crossover style of the A-class. Its boxy shape also optimizes ease of access and interior space.  

The Canadian version comes with two engine choices (a diesel version destined for Europe will not be available here): a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated gasoline engine and a twin-scroll turbo in the AMG. The GLB 250’s unboosted 2.0-litre engine delivers 221 horsepower, and fuel consumption of just 7.5 litres/100 km. 

The AMG 35’s engine, on the other hand, pushes out a healthy 302 horsepower which comes in a sudden burst as the turbo engages. It’s mated to an eight-speed “speedshift” dual-clutch automatic transmission with paddleshifters that provide almost instantaneous response. To manage all that power, the AMG 35 also has a stiffened body, tight suspension and speed-sensitive steering.

Exterior and Interior Impressions

Mercedes stretched the wheelbase by 100 mm to 2,829 mm. This allowed the company to add cargo space with the seats folded, and enough room for suitcases for a weekend trip. Photo: Mercedes-Benz

The body’s upright squarish shape optimizes interior space. Mercedes says the moderate step-in height and less rakish windshield should appeal to older drivers and passengers.

The interior has a blend of the sort of modern technology and tasteful restraint we have come to expect from a premium automaker. A seven-inch instrument cluster and seven-inch media display (with optional 10.25-inch) are linked to the well-executed MBUX (Mercedes Benz User Experience) infotainment system and augmented reality display for navigation. Drivers need only call, “Hey, Mercedes” to wake up the system for whatever their navigation or communication needs may be.  

Inside the 2020 GLB 250 is a seven-inch instrument cluster and seven-inch media display (with optional 10.25-inch) linked to the well-executed MBUX (Mercedes Benz User Experience) infotainment system and augmented reality display for navigation. Photo: Doug Firby

Mercedes stretched the wheelbase by 100 mm to 2,829 mm. This allowed the company to add cargo space with the seats folded, and enough room for suitcases for a weekend trip. The real trick, though, is the ability to add an optional third row to accommodate kids or small adults on short trips. You wouldn’t want to sit in the back all day, but it’ll get the gang to a soccer match. 

Premium quality finishes inside include brushed aluminum trim, pebbled leather seats and colour-changing ambient lighting. The seats are firm, with adjustable lumbar support (and optional massage feature). Gauges are electronic and simple to read.

On the sporty AMG 35, brushed aluminum dash trim integrates with turbine-shaped air vents that look like they’ve come off a fighter jet.   

Performance and Handling: How’s the GLB 250 on the road?

The GLB is more capable than its dressy looks might suggest. Dressed for pavement, it could be easily dismissed as unfit for off-roading. And, indeed, it is not intended for rock climbing. 

That said, it has some impressive numbers: 200 mm of ground clearance and even the ability to tilt 35 degrees without rolling over. Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel drive system locks a slipping wheel to bolster traction, meaning you can crawl out of some pretty challenging situations.

The GLB 250’s unboosted 2.0-litre engine delivers 221 horsepower, and fuel consumption of just 7.5 litres/100 km. Photo: Mercedes-Benz

The GLB 250 has the comfort you’ll want if you’re planning a day-long trip with minimal fatigue. The sportier AMG 35 sacrifices those creature comforts for road-handling prowess. Its high-feedback road feel made our trip through the twisty hills of Andalusia an adrenaline-pumping thrill ride. With low-profile tires, the 35 handled hairpin turns without a sweat. We learned to get on gas hard at the apex so the turbo was ready to kick in as we exited. It takes a little practice, but the AMG delivers a generous dose of F1-style fun.  

Takeaway: our finals thoughts on the new GLB 250

Mercedes makes a lot of SUVs (eight models, globally), and each has its own niche. The GLB fits very nicely into the compact segment, striking the right balance between practicality and joy of driving. Pricing has not been released, but we’re confident the opportunity to own a premium German brand will not come lightly. If you want a compact vehicle but don’t want to compromise on performance, creature comforts or brand status, this could be your car. 

The GLB will be manufactured in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Deliveries of the 250 are expected to begin in Q1 2020, and the AMG 35 in the fall. 

Check out the rest of our SUV & crossover reviews here.

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Doug Firby
I am a communications generalist with more than four decades of experience in online, blogging, newspapers, radio and magazines. I'm also a gearhead and an outdoor enthusiast. I write on cars, trucks, bikes and the auto industry for national publications. And I am president and publisher of Troy Media Digital Solutions.

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